By Tim Foster
Geoff Holman, the British Engineer in the PWD Design office, was working on a project to construct a jetty in the North of Efate near Saama village. A jetty had been constructed there by the Americans during WW2 and some of the piling structure still remained in the sea. Geoff wanted to see if these remains could be incorporated in the new jetty and asked me to go to the site with him and have a look. Geoff had arranged for a launch to meet us at Havannah Harbour and take us along the coast to the site.
We set off on a lovely sunny day through Mele Village, up Klems Hill and on to Havannah Harbour. We took a couple of cool boxes with food and beer as we expected to be out all day.
We met the launch as planned. It was about 5m long and fitted with two outboard motors. The main engine was massive and was supplemented by a much smaller engine which looked to be tied on with rope. The crew was two NH lads.
Because the tide was low there was not enough water depth at the north end of the channel to sail that way to Saama so the skipper set off down the channel with the aim of rounding the southern end of the island of Moso and then travelling up in open ocean, a total distance of some 25 kilometres. The engine performed up to expectations and propelled us at high speed to the southern end of Moso and into the Pacific.
We had been making good progress for some time and were well on our way along the north coast of Moso when the skipper suddenly slowed down and pointed ahead at an area of rougher water. He said it was where two currents met and resulted in a sort of mild maelstrom. The gyrating water extended over about 200 metres diameter and held coconuts, palm fronds and other debris in its grip so the skipper had to navigate with care, dodging the floating obstacles. If we had hit the area at the speed we were originally going it would have been a disaster for us. However it was clear that the skipper knew what he was about and was aware of the danger.
Having cleared the maelstrom the skipper picked up speed again but after a few minutes the motor coughed, spluttered and died. The crew checked it over and found it had run out of petrol. They refuelled it from a Jerry can, which I found a bit unnerving- sloshing petrol about near a hot engine I thought was not a good idea. They then tried to restart the motor using a couple of lengths of electric wire and a car battery in the bottom of the boat which resulted in a shower of sparks but no success, so they gave up and turned to the small standby. It started by hand pull and we set off at about 5 knots which was a much more enjoyable speed. It occurred to me that we were now in open ocean with no more power backup except a pair of paddles, no life vests and no radio. I wondered if Geoff had any contingency plans.
As we pottered along, the crew spotted a turtle just off our port side; I think if the main motor had been working they would have had a go at catching it so I was glad we only had the small motor.
We eventually reached the site in Undine Bay, found the remains of the old structure and sailed up and down while Geoff made notes. Finished, the skipper ran us up on the beach where we pulled out the cool boxes and cracked open some tinnies, which we shared with the crew and sat down to our kakae.
As we sat there, it crossed my mind (as it did many times during my service), that people would pay hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, for this sort of experience and here was I getting paid for it, not a lot, but getting paid nevertheless.
Kakae time over, we got back on the launch to start our return journey. The skipper still couldn’t get the main motor to start and as he didn’t fancy the long trip in open ocean at 5 knots (neither did I), and as the tide was higher he decided to go back down the channel between Moso and Efate. This would cut the return distance to about 15 kilometres. However, he asked Geoff and me to lean over each side at the front of the launch and keep a lookout for any obstructions. It turned out that the skipper’s mate, standing up at the rear of the launch, could “read” the sea well ahead and spotted trouble long before Geoff and I could so it was an enjoyable trip as the speed at which we were going meant we had a great view of the undersea life, the ride was smooth and we got back to Havannah Harbour safely.
The jetty was eventually built but not as Geoff had envisaged. It was built of coral rock, end-tipped out to sea and reinforced with steel rails driven into the seabed with horizontal rails welded between them. It was probably a simpler way to do it but it must have later had some effect on littoral drift.
I have since looked at the site on satellite photos which show a jetty exists close to Saama but it’s not clear if it is the original one.
Copyright Tim Foster 2017 All rights reserved